April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Philadelphia Begins Laying Off School Librarians

Facing a $304 million shortfall for the coming year, Philadelphia’s public schools have started making severe staffing cuts for its so-called “doomsday budget” —many of them to the 43 certified school librarians throughout the district.

While the state and city’s own budgets have yet to be finalized—and could result in more money going to schools—the School District of Philadelphia began to send layoff notices last week, with many certified school librarians receiving them Saturday and into this week, according to a person close to the matter. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved its budget at the end of May that stands to cut 3,783 positions from city schools.

As of Wednesday, June 12, six elementary school certified librarians, one library instructional media assistant, one middle school certified librarian, and one high school librarian had received layoff notices. Two high school certified librarians—including one who had just spent $85,000 on library resources from a grant—have been given forced transfer notices. Another high school librarian, who holds three other certifications, was told by the school principal that there would be no funding for that position in the coming year.

One librarian who received a forced transfer was told they could wait to see if a library position opened if they didn’t want to take the teaching position offered, but in choosing that option they could could not collect unemployment, according to the person close to the matter.

Repeated calls to the district and to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers were not returned.

The certified school librarian positions are just a few of the nearly 4,000 school-based roles that the district is planning to lay off, including some teachers, secretaries, assistant principals, counselors, and school nurses, among other positions. Layoffs take effect June 30.

Still, there is still a chance that more funding may come to the school district, according to Brett Schaeffer, communications director of the Education Law Center, a legal advocacy and non-profit educational group in Philadelphia. Schaeffer recently testified before the City Council about how losing 100 school nurses two years ago adversely impacted Philadelphia school children. He believes there also will be a negative impact from losing school librarians as well.

“So the way this works is that the School District has to pass its budget before the state and the city, which means there’s a chance—however small—that additional funding will emerge between now and September,” Schaeffer tells School Library Journal. “It’s happened that way in the past. The question is what the amount of money would be. The district is looking for $300 million to close the current gap, but may get only $100 million.”

While Philadelphia school librarian Carol Heinsdorf has not yet received a layoff notice, she is concerned. As an advocate for school librarians in the past, she believes that even with budgets tight, these positions are just not as important to higher-ups as others in the school system.

“People in positions of power and authority have always said that there’s no money for school librarians,” she says. “But the fact of the matter is it is not a priority.”

In Philadelphia, noontime aides demonstrated earlier this month outside City Hall, while Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter traveled to the state capital in Harrisburg to appeal for more aid for city schools. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has stated that, should the district get more money, many positions would be restored, and he is asking for $60 million from the city, $120 from the state, and $133 million from union concessions for that purpose.

In the meantime, cuts continue—and should some funds be returned to the school district, it’s unclear how they would be re-allocated and which positions may be brought back to schools.

“What is clear is that school libraries will be hurt,” says Schaeffer. “My guess is that, given the choice between having a school nurse and a librarian, schools will pick the former. Those are the kind of decisions that schools will be facing. It’s not pretty.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. Cheryl Taylor says:

    This is a disgrace. My district East Ramapo Central School District, in New York a suburb in Rockland County just abolished 7 elementary library media specialists effective June 30th. How is the classroom teacher expected to do it all? School libraries are the common core! We are information specialists. We teach the children how to navigate, locate and evaluate resources found on the web. We teach digital citizenship. Classroom teachers are now expected to teach ELA, Math, SS, Science, Technology, Music, Art, Research, and be a Librarian. Plus do recess and lunch duty. What has come of the education system? What is going to happen to these children? Education is not a business. Something has to be done!

  2. A. Young says:

    Anyone who followed the Superintendent’s career in Maryland would have seen this coming. Half of the librarians in his previous school district (89) were excessed in 2011. The majority that remained were working part-time in 2 or 3 schools to have full-time jobs.